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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Managers Should Be Teachers, Not Simply Controllers

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, March 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

1.  Clearly define the work as much as possible

In the Toyota Way I discuss the concept of standardization to enhance innovation.  A core idea in kaizen is that you cannot improve a process that is not stable.  If an individual makes changes on their own nobody else benefits and if that individual moves on the improvement is lost.  Group learning (as opposed to individual learning) depends on standardization.  I also refer to Paul Adler’s distinction between enabling bureaucracy (assists those doing the work and engages them) versus coercive bureaucracy (like Taylorism poses outside constraints to control the person).  In Toyota Talent we discuss how to train people to help them achieve excellence.  We suggest in any serious craft (cooking, art, music) or sport there are well developed ways of training in which the task is broken down to tiny pieces taught through repetition.  You must earn your way to be able to innovate by mastering the fundamentals.  We discuss defining the fundamentals even for complex jobs like nursing and engineering.  Without breaking down the work, developing fundamental skills, developing some basic standards, and teaching these rigorously asking someone to meet improvement targets depends on extraordinary individual skill or luck.  Many people will simply be frustrated or they will game the system to make it appear they are making the numbers.  Pressure to perform to metrics without competency is a recipe for problems.

2. Set meaningful targets (or target conditions)

Mike Rother in Toyota Kata got it right.  What drives people is the combination of the vision of where they want to go next, the competency to do it, and the support.  The improvement kata provides the competency and the target condition provides the vision  Simply throwing generic targets like we must have a 10% reduction in cost drives people to look around for what they can throw away, which is mostly other people and their labor costs.  I have seen targets and target conditions work instead to inspire a team to creatively find better ways of working. Mike correctly points out that a target condition can give you a vision of a specific way of working that will drive innovation, e.g., consolidate both lines to one line so we can level the workload.  It is concrete and then we identify individual steps with intermediate target conditions to move in that direction.  Saying get 10% leaves us hanging on where to focus.  On the other hand those well trained in TPS methods can respond very well to a target like get 10%.  In reality through the hoshin kanri process you go beyond get 10% to lets discuss the goal and the means to get there.  So manager and subordinate agree on the target, and agree on the plan for getting there.

3. Coach people in how to achieve the targets step by step

It has now become recognized that managers should be teachers and coaches and not simply controllers.  That becomes essential when you are interested in systematic improvement by the people who are doing the work.  They were hired to do the job and may get good at it but improving processes is an entirely different set of skills.  If you want your cake and to eat it to you need to make the investment in developing capability for improvement.  You can do it on a one off basis in a training course but then the skills never develop deeply.  If your manager is a coach and is there on the spot they can give you ongoing daily tips and feedback.  They can help move obstacles out of the way.  On Toyota manager explained to a young engineer who reported to him:  I have only two jobs.  One is to teach you and the other is to remove barriers so you can accomplish your goals.  Mike Rother’s coaching kata provides a standardized routine that can be taught on how to coach others.

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